Co-authored by Brian Gross

On September 28, 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals awarded Garlock a decisive victory in the matter of Olwen Moeller v. Garlock Sealing Technologies, LLC (C.A. No. 09-5670).  In overturning a jury verdict against Garlock, the Moeller Court, pursuant to the substantive laws of the State of Kentucky, held that plaintiff failed to prove that any alleged asbestos exposure from Garlock products was a substantial factor in the development of Robert Moeller’s mesothelioma.

The facts of the case were not in dispute.  The decedent, Robert Moeller (“Decedent”), was a pipefitter from approximately 1962-1970.  During the course of this employment, Decedent allegedly worked with Garlock asbestos-containing gaskets. Additionally, from 1962 to 1975, Decedent had significant exposure to asbestos-containing thermal insulation.  Both the Decedent’s estate and Garlock agreed that the Decedent’s mesothelioma was caused by asbestos, and that the thermal insulation exposed him to asbestos.

At trial, plaintiff presented the testimony of Richard Hatfield, Dr. Arthur Frank and Decedent’s treating physician, Dr. Charles Webb.  Hatfield testified that Decedent was exposed to asbestos through the removal of Garlock gaskets.  Dr. Frank testified that all of Decedent’s exposures to asbestos, including  the exposure to Garlock gaskets, contributed to cause Decedent’s mesothelioma.  And lastly, Dr. Webb testified that if Decedent scraped and grinded asbestos gaskets, and then in turn inhaled the fibers, that exposure could have caused his mesothelioma.

Based on the testimony of plaintiff’s experts, Garlock argued that plaintiff failed to prove that any exposure to asbestos as a result of working with Garlock products was a substantial contributing factor to the development of Decedent’s mesothelioma, and moved for directed verdict and for judgment on the pleadings.  Both were denied, and Garlock appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In overturning the verdict against Garlock, the Court found that while Garlock gaskets may have contributed to cause Decedent’s mesothelioma, plaintiff failed to produce evidence which would “support an inference that it was a substantial cause of his mesothelioma.”  In so finding, the Court held that “Plaintiff failed to quantify [Decedent’s] exposure to asbestos from Garlock gaskets.”   Moreover, because “plaintiff concedes that [Decedent] sustained massive exposure to asbestos from non-Garlock sources, there is simply insufficient evidence to infer that Garlock gaskets probably, as opposed to possibly, were a substantial cause of [Decedent’s] mesothelioma.”

The Moeller decision is part of a growing trend in which courts have begun to look upon with disfavor the plaintiff’s “every exposure” theory of substantial causation.  As a result of this trend, it has become even more important than ever to obtain as much information as possible concerning all of a plaintiff’s alleged exposures.  Moreover, it is increasingly important to drill down on plaintiffs’ experts in order to reveal their inability to quantify a plaintiff’s alleged exposure to a particular defendant’s product.